Housing Authority paints bigger picture

Details obtained from Housing Authority show off-duty program generated $1.4 mil. since 2011

File Photo Information obtained using the Open Public Records Act shows that no-show jobs were taking advantage of a larger program that has generated more than $1.4 million in federal tax dollars for the city and its officers since 2011.
File Photo
Information obtained using the Open Public Records Act shows that no-show jobs were taking advantage of a larger program that has generated more than $1.4 million in federal tax dollars for the city and its officers since 2011.

ELIZABETH – Housing Authority records for the last three years show more than $1.4 million in federally funded dollars was paid to city police officers for overtime work at their facilities, a total of 44,329 hours of off-duty pay at $27.50 to $30 per hour.
Included in that number was $179,443 the city received as an administrative fee.

Unclear is how much of those federally funded dollars went to police officers who never showed up for off-duty pay jobs for the city housing authority. Elizabeth Housing Authority Executive Director William D. Jones, though, was careful when addressing the issue.

“The housing authority has worked with the Elizabeth Police Department for many years relying on their support and service. As a result of this incident, the housing authority has taken additional measures to improve the monitoring of the time recording and attendance of each and every officer assigned to all housing authority sites,” Jones said in a statement Tuesday.

While going deeper into the pay job scandal, Jones did make it clear that he bore no ill will towards all police officers.
“HACE feels this to be an isolated incident and recognizes that there are many hard working and dedicated officers that do in fact perform the job they are called to do,” he added.

Little was released by the Union County Prosecutor’s office regarding the six-month investigation into the pay job scandal that rocked the Elizabeth Police Department. Other than the fact two veteran police officers pled guilty to third degree deception on Feb. 27, the Prosecutor’s Office did not release any information regarding how widespread the problem was, or if the two police officers negotiated a plea deal in order to reduce the amount of money they had to pay in restitution. The two officers in question were Christopher Flatley, 44, a 25-year veteran of the department, and Michael Tropeano, 50, who spent 15-years as a city police officer.

In February LocalSource used the Open Public Records Act to request public records from the Elizabeth Housing Authority for 2011, 2012 and 2013 in order to specifically delve into the number of off-duty pay jobs taken on by city police officers. Also requested was the number of hours each police officer worked, the dates and amount paid.

The information contained in the Housing Authority records did shed further light on how many hours both Flatley and Tropeano allegedly worked at the housing authority, as well as Det. Christopher Cox, who was not prosecuted but resigned in late February as a result of his involvement.

After receiving these public records, LocalSource analyzed every day, week, month and year to get an estimate of the amount of money the housing authority paid out to police officers.

However, these records only indicated the hours worked on a daily basis over the three years, and did not show any indication of which officers did not show up for their shift and yet still received payment. That information is in the hands of the Elizabeth Police Department and Union County Prosecutor’s Office and has not been released.

Despite this, LocalSource looked specifically at the two police officers who lost their jobs as a result of the pay-job scandal and the 18 police officer names sent to the prosecutor’s office by Elizabeth Police Director James Cosgrove. While these 18 police officers were not prosecuted, acting Prosecutor Grace Park referred them back to the Elizabeth Police department for administrative disciplinary action. Whether all 18 will be disciplined for their participation is unknown since neither Cosgrove nor Police Chief Shannon has responded to LocalSource’s inquiries.

To date, two other officers, Det. James Diorio and Det. James Malone, were told by Cosgrove less than two weeks ago that they “had” to retire as of April 1. Both, like Flatley, will retire with a pension, while Tropeano was not eligible for his.

The 18 officers on the list referred back to the Elizabeth Police Department included Bernard Alvarez, Neal Coleman, Raul Dela Prida, John Lynes, Vincent Napoli, Richard Sosa, Lamar Boone, Luis Garcia, Gino Que Lopana, James Chrysler, Howard Decker, Thomas De Beau, James Lugardo, Athanasios Mikros, Edward Shields and Guillermo Valadares, in addition to Diorio and Malone.

According to the three years of Housing Authority records LocalSource analyzed, Flatley received approximately $60,823 during that time period for pay-jobs, while Tropeano received $25,155.

While it is unknown how many of these pay jobs Flatley and Tropeano did not show up for, acting Prosecutor Grace Park did note on Feb. 27 that Flatley was ordered to pay restitution of $2,235 and Tropeano $1,260.

Investigation into records from 2011, 2012 and 2013 showed Malone received $28,488 for off-duty pay jobs he was supposed to perform for the Housing Authority. This included $12,426 in 2011, $12,360 in 2012 and $3,702 in 2013.

Diorio made approximately $20,699 over the three-year period, which included $7,150 in 2011, $7,204 in 2012 and $6,345 in 2013.
As previously noted, it is unknown exactly how many housing authority pay jobs police officers arrived late or never showed up for work at all, but received payment nevertheless.

The total amount paid out by the Elizabeth Housing Authority in 2011 came to $518,348, of which more than $65,820 was paid to the city as an administrative fee.

This administrative fee, according to a housing authority employee source that preferred their name not be used, is money the city receives from every off-duty pay job police officers work at the housing authority. The city also receives an administrative fee for other pay jobs police officers take on for the school district, large retail stores, and construction sites or at events.

In 2011, city police officers were paid for a total of 16,453 hours of work at four housing facilities including Mravlag Manor, Farley & Kennedy Arms, Ford Leonard and O’Donnell Dempsey. The majority, 10,084 hours, was at Mravlag Manor.

In 2012, the housing authority expended $577,810 in federal monies for pay jobs, $63,685 of which went to the city as an administrative fee.

In 2013, the housing authority paid a total of $355,674 for pay jobs, more than $49,937 of which went to the city as an administrative fee.
Housing authority officials indicated last month that they had no idea police officers were not showing up to work.

“We thought they were on duty and never heard otherwise,” said one housing authority employee, who feared retribution if their name was used. Another said they were unsure what steps would be taken by the housing authority as a result of the fraud that took place.